Beverly Hills

Claremont, CA. Outside of Los Angeles County, few people have heard about the latest dangerous idea in public education.

Two local public school districts have adopted a “legacy admissions” policy. According to education experts, the policies are the first in the nation.

Officials in the Beverly Hills and Santa Monica-Malibu school districts say that there’s nothing problematic about giving children of alums – even when they don’t live within district boundaries – preference in admission.

When asked by LA Times reporter Seema Mehta about complaints that the program is antidemocratic, one Beverly Hills school trustee responded, “What’s wrong with being elitist? We’re Beverly Hills.”

At present, each of these programs is limited in scope. But in a state with a catastrophic budget, it’s not hard to imagine this idea expanding and catching on in other elite school districts. In those districts, when municipal sources of funding start to wither, school administrators will be tempted to “tak[e] a page out of the university or college playbook,” as one another Beverly Hills trustee put it. It’s almost inevitable.

Legacy admission at public elementary and secondary schools probably will thrive, too, because of the massive and crippling inequalities within American public education. (See everything that Jonathan Kozol has ever written.) Without doubt, these programs will attract many takers.

And even though it’s tempting to see Beverly Hills as an exceptional case, history suggests that we should not. In fact, history suggests that where the Beverly Hills School District goes, other schools will someday follow. In 1988, Michael Leahy’s Hard Lessons shocked readers with its portrayal of senior year at Beverly High. The description of entire families obsessed by college admission, of students spending their afternoons with SAT tutors and studying through the night with the help of prescription stimulants, seemed to most readers to be beyond the pale. Twenty-one years later, what’s shocking about the book is how little it shocks. For the most part, Leahy could be describing life at any one of thousands of competitive high schools across the country.

I’ve said before here that we cannot talk about liberty and community in American life without talking about inequality in American life. We cannot talk about place in American life without talking about the inequality that place in America increasingly represents, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in public schooling.

The clear trend of American public education is toward more inequality, and I am fairly certain that these new policies bode even more troublesome things to come. Legacy admission at public schools provides yet another way for more comfortable Americans to turn their backs on our most troubled schools – and the children in them.

At what point are public schools no longer public in any meaningful way? At what point are we no longer truly educating all Americans, but educating some Americans at the expense (or neglect) of others? And what will that do to us as a nation?

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. There would be another side to this policy in communities like Birmingham, Alabama, where top-flight suburban public school systems drive housing prices sky high because parents crowd into suburban municipalities and flee Birmingham city limits because of poor public schools, and home prices “in the city” can be as much as 25% to 50% lower — sometimes literally right across the street from their suburban counterparts. This kind of policy would permit families from these suburban municipalities to take tentative steps “into the city” without having to sacrifice their children’s education. The more of these suburban families we can get back into the city (even if just into the outer edges of it), the better for the city’s tax base and the city’s government. This is a realistic possibility in Birmingham because some of our “suburbs” start minutes from downtown and there are parts of the City of Birmingham that are closer to the suburban schools than parts of the suburban municipalities themselves!

  2. I agree completely, but it’s interesting how legacy admissions would act to thwart the meritocracy that Beer has been on about recently… As a policy, it would encourage rich people to stay put and build a shared culture of elitism at the same time it provides them with a concrete sense of place. Though I shiver at the thought of us returning to this kind of thing, its still the way that ideologies of rootedness (whether that be the family farm or Harvard yard) have often operated in the past, and will likely operate in the future should these things stay around.

  3. Look for rental prices in the Hills to skyrocket as families seek to establish a “legacy” and then rotate back out to L.A.

  4. I think it is a bad idea, too. However, I hope to take advantage of this development to get my own two kids out of an abysmal LAUSD school and into a Santa Monica school two miles away thanks to my wife’s attendance some decades ago. Forgive me for wanting the best for my kids.

  5. “Legacy admission at public schools provides yet another way for more comfortable Americans to turn their backs on our most troubled schools – and the children in them.”

    I’m not sure I follow. The parents who participate in the legacy program will be paying taxes to support troubled schools while simultaneously reducing overcrowding in those schools by having their children not attend all subsidized by the the taxpayers of Beverly Hills.

  6. I have so many questions about this topic!

    I dislike the inequality within the current system of funding schools by district taxes. However, that is very much the point of localism. Apparently, this is what the taxpayers of the BH school district want. It would be nice if, in addition to legacy students, provisions were made for scholarships for gifted students. I wonder, will the campus eventually include dormitories?

    Frankly, I see the development of legacy students at BH High less of a problem than most of the other chowder-headed ideas of PC, “mainstreaming,” “gender-awareness education” (read Gay/Lesbian acceptance training), Multiculturalism and a host of other “-isms” that have been shoved down the throats of America’s children in the name of “rights” and “equality” !!!

    I’m a retired school teacher. Believe me, public education is no longer about the 3Rs. The teachers and staff of most public schools have been forced, from above by state and federal mandates, (often un- or under- funded) to fill the curriculum with topics and exercises that have no place in a classroom. There is no time within the school day to practice “drills” of subjects or to have deeper discusions of particular topics. Therefore young children are now given homework to “help” them progress according to standards that are out of the local school district’s hands.

    Discarded along the path have been civics, gym, music and art programs, as well as, “recess” and a long lunch/play period. All of the aforementioned are necessary to develop well rounded, physically fit, healthy citizens.

    The sports remain, at least in most schools. Although football often is replaced by soccer because of injury insurance concerns. Some schools are fortunate to have swimming pools and therefore can offer swimming lessons and lifeguard training; as well as other “water sports.” (If not, most of the students do not learn water safety or how to swim…Think about that when you’re at the lake or shore this summer.)

    Our public schools are failing in their most basic function! That is to form well-rounded citizens with the necessary skills to compete in the world economy.

    Although my children and myself went to excellent public schools; I now pay the tuition to send my grandchildren to a parochial school. I feel the need to do this because they live in an urban school district riddled with crime. Their parents drive them to school because the school buses (1 driver, without a monitor on board) are places where beatings, knifing and sexual activity occur.

  7. Leave No Manolo Blahnik Behind. Expense Account Darwinism, the best kind. Funny, but they’ll still likely emerge from their tony redoubts in possession of a level of critical knowledge that might best be described in the manner of my dear old grandpappy P.C. who would reply to some idly stupid remark by asserting it “makes about as much sense as a fart in a hailstorm”.

    Anyone who asserts there is not at least some runt remains of justice at work in this paradise of entitled pampered fools should sit in on the admissions process of a Manhattan East Side Day School where paper tigers bow and scrape and go soggy to get their little darlings into the properly decorated cattle stall of amateur nobility. That, and the hair-raising terror of the Co-Op Board Interview make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Its nice that in this automated and programmed meritocracy that everyone must be browbeat.

    To all those left out of the orbit of the Swells, read and write and converse with the kids and when it’s all said and done, they’ll find that their classroom education was the least elucidating thing about their education. Going to public schools in this country to gain an education is like going to a wet t-shirt contest to understand anatomy. One might gain a moment of delectation but it aint a comprehensive education by a long shot.

  8. How many on this site favor vouchers and/or tax rebates for monies spent on tuition and books for elementary and secondary education?

    I ask because I don’t believe that the public schools can become great places to receive an education in most inner city areas. I have doubts about many schools in areas where both parents are, by necessity, working long and/or irregular hours.

    I was fortunate to be able to volunteer at my children’s schools over the years. My grandchildren’s school requires parental involvement in the form of volunteering at the school. Being a private institution, it can do that. In addition, “inappropriate” attire and behavior are not tolerated…a “plus” in my book. Neither option is a “tool” available to a public school.

    I’m not “slamming” the teachers at inner city schools. It is also (sadly) true that quite a few inner city schools desperately need upgrading and repair. However, from what I’ve seen; the parents are the real problem. They might love their children, but they have no idea of how to be a good parent. (Programs, such as C.A.P.C.O. can only do so much…) And, for many, they have adopted lifestyles that are not conducive to successful childrearing.

    The above said, the funding for these schools can not be raised within the local community or neighborhood. Therefore the districts have to rely on “formulas” for sharing the tax dollars from a larger source. As many of you know, transportation in rural districts is very expensive … But that’s a whole different barrel of tacks. (Although both areas have the problem of lack of a prosperous or large enough tax base.)

    If we care about our communites this is an issue that has to be addressed. I wouldn’t advise any parent to do as Howard Stern claims his parents did (i.e. that they kept him in a public school for the experience of getting along with others, especially Blacks; because they believed in integration. Even though he was being beat up on a daily basis…) if they could afford to do otherwise.

    I am thankful that my husband and I can afford to pay our grandchildren’s tution. But, we have a somewhat reduced standard of living because of that expense…let’s just say we aren’t buying a winter condo in Florida anytime soon! …probably never! 😉 🙂

  9. It is helpful to know that in California the bulk of per student funding is allocated by the state of California. My two kids leaving LAUSD for Santa Monica would mean the transfer of about $10,000 from the one district to the other. Believe me, I would much prefer a subsidy for them to attend a Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox or (maybe) Episcopal school. I doubt that will ever happen despite the obvious preference many Democratic Party leaders have for sending their own children to private schools.

  10. Sounds like a great idea to me. Might get more people thinking about those vouchers. Be nice to have choices/ options for my kids. Hell, I’d go for even a chance, via lottery, to get my kids out of El Monte school district.

  11. This seems a key quotation from the Times article:

    “It’s antidemocratic,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. Public schools, he said, were created as places where “merit was to be rewarded and birth and economic advantage was to have no place.”

    This event is compelling, and Susan’s discussion is as well; one can’t help but contemplate the evils Kozal has exposed without feeling a sense of deep injustice ensconced in educational inequalities. Russell Fox’s early post on public education in Arkansas would extend Susan’s reflections in a profitable direction.

    But, I frankly think public schooling is the problem per se. (Forgive me, Dirk). That is, the kind of equality it can provide is undesirable and is savage when it succeeds, even if nowhere near so savage as when it fails.

    Rosenbaum is surely right that this development is antithetical to the spirit of American public education, but I would suggest it is worth calling into question that spirit in any case.

  12. Perhaps there is something I am missing with California education law but it seems to me the logical outcome of such a policy is twofold:

    1) Families that have fallen upon hard times during our current economic troubles and have been forced through layoffs and salary cuts to move to less tony digs can have their children stay in the school and community in which they have spent their educational careers while their parents pay taxes in a less luxurious community supporting schools most in need of support while providing them with no additional obligations.

    2) Families that could never afford to buy a home in Beverly Hills now have the opportunity to rent establishing a permanent residence until their status as a “legacy” is established and then move out getting a better education for their children and paying most of their taxes to more needy schools and providing them with no additional obligation.

    The potential loser here is of course the Beverly Hills school system. If enough families in the two aforementioned categories make use of the policy they could have a serious influx of students without an increase in tax base.

  13. Along with Dan, I don’t really see a problem here. If Beverly Hills wants to take in children of alumni, then that’s their business, period. And even if not, then it isn’t really a very bad idea. Of course, the better idea would be to raze the public school system entirely, literally auctioning off the properties, and (in a reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment’s religion clause) forbidding direct aid to schools from any level of government. Let the chips fall where they may. It couldn’t possibly be a worse result for those in the worst schools, and probably wouldn’t hurt those in better schools, whose parents, caring enough to get them in better schools in the first place, would surely continue to see they are educated in the better schools.

  14. “It’s antidemocratic,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. Public schools, he said, were created as places where “merit was to be rewarded and birth and economic advantage was to have no place.”

    Mr. Rosenbaum is incorrect.

    Public schools were created to provide the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Civics and a cursory courses in history and science were also provided. It was the parent’s job to cultivate morals and religious teachings in the home, according to their beliefs. The early public schools were “owned” by the local community.

    The textbooks were selected and purchased by the school board; which consisted of both elected and appointed members (e.g. local clergy or medical doctors, citizens of note, etc.). The parents paid the “school tax” (often in coal, wood, etc. for the school building) and shared the expense of housing the teacher(s). Parents were fined for “lost” or destroyed books (i.e. added to their tax bill.)

    Problem students often faced more serious punishments at home than at school, when their misdeeds became known to the parents. What the child did outside of the home was seen as a reflection (either good or bad) of the quality of the family’s home life, and indeed upon the integrity and morality of the parents. Children were encouraged to think of their actions in the following order: (1) Is this pleasing to God? (2) Is this something that would embarrass my parents/family? (3) Is this a reflection on my school, hometime, etc.. to the “outside” world.

    “…merit was to be rewarded and birth and economic advantage was to have no place…”–Mark Rosenbaum

    Don’t worry, Mr. Rosenbaum, this will still be the case (for the most part…just as it always was) within the school district. A local school board still has the power to decide the parameters of the “school district.” Whatever those parameters may be.

    What you desire, Mr. Rosenbaum, is the complete dissolution of the current system of school taxes being funded by property taxes. It’ll never happen….unless this country becomes Socialistic.

    GWB and Congress haven given this a try with NCLB. Most school districts are very unhappy with this program. They want the funds from the federal government (which the government can not afford) or they want NCLB repealed.

    Of course Obama and his domestic terrorist buddies Ayers and Dorhn may try to overhaul the current system along the lines of the USSR…

    But I wouldn’t hold my breath until it happens… 😉

    Both Obama and the USA are running out of money faster than they can print it. Our trading “”partner”” the Chinese haw warned him against placing the printing presses on overdrive. He can’t afford to p***-off the Chinese.

  15. My apologies to anyone who might be offended by my #29 May 2009 @ 5:51 pm reply.

    I am a person who has no patience for whining or playing the victim. I also, have little, if any respect, for the ACLU since they backed the NAMBLA group in 2000. “Free Speech” my ….!

    Oops! there I go again! 😉 🙂

Comments are closed.